Road Raves, a new column by Lalit Kumar, focuses on the high-adventure sporting life.
I lean on my motorcycle towards the curve of the track, my back bent forward in an aerodynamic position, my eyes scanning the bend of the curve ahead and my hands steading the throttle as I swiftly negotiate the sharp curve of the race track.
My mind is still, fully focused on the task at hand but the roar of the engines from my motorcycle and the group riders on the track, coupled with the sharp wind blowing past my bike produce what can be rightly called ‘a roar of thunder’ that continuously keeps pounding my ears. What exhilaration!
As I quickly approach the straight section of the track, I throttle up the gas, pushing the RPM of the engine. For a microsecond, I look down on my odometer: the needle was hovering around 95mph. I am at the edge of my riding comfort and adrenaline rush. One wrong move and I could be hurtling down the track with severe repercussions, but those thoughts subside in an adrenaline rush.
Riding that fine line between the thrill of speed with an element of danger: isn’t that the point of motorcycling?
Twists, Turns, And Treacherous Slopes
That morning I was at the Thunderhill Race Track in Willows, Northern California to experience first-hand what it feels like to race a motorcycle down a track. The layout of this track is pretty flowing in nature but incorporates many twists, turns and treacherous slopes built in to challenge every rider.
After the first 20 minutes sortie itself, it became clearer to me what the professional racers put themselves through trying to save just a second off their respective lap time in order to win the races. Riding on the edge of their comfort, pushing the machine to its limit, negotiating sharp turns and slopes they race at 100+mph on average (not just the straight sections, where they might push 200+mph), they are the true speed aficionados.
Freedom In My Veins
I was riding my Kawasaki Ninja which proved to be nimble and great for maneuverability around the corners. Learning to hit the apex of the turns was a new skill that I gathered throughout my lap times.
I had a particularly challenging moment during the first lap itself, where the track curved and sloped up simultaneously and then it suddenly dropped down with a treacherous turn. I couldn’t anticipate the turn due to zero visibility down the track. As I was riding up the slope during the climb and at the apex, I had to slam my brake while nimbly maneuvering the bike along the turn down the slope. It was a new (shall I call it wild?) experience which I might keep coming back to, time permitting.
It became very apparent that riding a track is a very different skill than riding in the traffic. Moreover, he weather worsened with gusts of strong wind and heavy rain especially during the last lap, which was a complete washout. Nevertheless, it was a day of wild rides — delivered in high octane, high throttle and in high gears.
Chasing The Wind
We had been on a motorcycle road trip through orthern California for the last few days. The track day at Willows was an exhilarating culmination of this whole experience. My friend and I had ridden our motorcycles through San Francisco, Napa Valley, and Lake Berryessa on the way, soaking in the open air, atmosphere and the weather in equal measure.
The ride across the green vineyards or the azure lake water , negotiating the twists and turns of the road on a two-wheeler, exposed to the elements was a remarkably visceral life experience. As you rev up the motorcycle, it races faster and faster but everything around you kind of slows down as your senses get heightened and your eyes pick up vivid images as you race by. It’s a Zen-like experience to ride, akin to ‘meditation- on-wheels.’
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” This quote may have been true for motorcycle riders and I don’t know if Hunter S. Thompson intended it to be so. But it does inspire me from time to time, whenever I think of a new adventure.
I would like to quote few lines from my recently published book, “Years Spent: Exploring Poetry in Adventure, Life and Love.”
“ I was chasing the winds
Untethered in the wild,
Feeling the freedom in my veins
To go, where I want to go.
… I was racing my bike.
Roaming the vastness
of my inner soul.
Seeking the wind in my hair,
Fueling my fire within.
The journey outward was only a metaphor
To the unending horizon of my soul. “
Does motorcycle make you a poet? I do not know the answer. But I do know that a motorcycle moves my soul whenever I get on it. In that sense motorcycling is not just a means of transport but a philosophy for an expansive way of life.